12 Jul 2011

New Technology Must Be Used to guide Students to High-Tech career

By Ilene Schneider
BioWorld Perspectives Contributing Writer

What and where are the hot jobs in the life sciences during the next decade?
Systems biology, informatics and information technology are looking like good bets, according to a number of researchers and educators. Bioengineering is looking good too, according to a recent report from the National Institutes of Health. Other key areas for hiring in the next ten years will be in regulatory, quality and clinical positions. But, to ensure that enough candidates enter these fields and receive training, teachers and parents are looking to new methods by which to spur students' interest in science.
Systems Biology and Bioinformatics Set a Future Standard
According to Bernhard Palsson, of the University of California, San Diego, there is "unprecedented opportunity" in systems biology and bioinformatics, which seek not only biologists, but also engineers, chemists, mathematicians and computer programmers.
"New systems biology centers are being established worldwide," added Lynn Hlatky, director of the center of cancer systems biology at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center at Tufts University in Boston.
"To get a life science job in 10 or 20 years, you will simply be expected to have competency in these areas," said Jens Nielsen, professor of systems biology at Chalmers University of Technology, in Göteborg, Sweden.
Systems analysis and bioinformatics are separate, but interdependent. According to Janet Thornton, director of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), of Heidelberg, Germany:
    "Bioinformatics extracts knowledge from the data that underlie systems biology, for creating hypotheses and models. Almost every experiment now involves multiple sources of data, requiring the ability to handle those data and to draw out inferences and knowledge. Bioinformatics has evolved rapidly over the past 15 years and is now quite ubiquitous."
Another area of major growth is systems medicine. Hlatky predicted that "progress in analyzing physiological networks, integrating data from multiple levels and monitoring biological changes over time will have a major impact." In addition, physicians will "pay more attention to all the parts, and recognize connections between different medical disciplines, like cancer and cardiology. Medicine will become more of what it is supposed to be, an integrated treatment of the individual."
As related in an article in Science, job opportunities in these fields are not necessarily tied to a specific geographic location, as researchers worldwide can collaborate on projects.
Bioengineering Promises to Be Another Top Field
According to another article about the hot jobs of the future, the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics counted approximately 7,600 bioengineering and biomedical engineering jobs in a recent survey. Most bioengineering specialists' work is in manufacturing industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, medical instrument development and health care supply. Others work for hospitals, government agencies or as independent contractors or consultants.
The government predicts that bioengineering and biomedical engineering jobs will increase by nearly 32 percent over the next five years. During the next decade, bioengineering positions are projected to increase at nearly double the average rate for all other types of jobs. "An aging population, focused on health and quality of life issues, has increased the demand for better medical devices and equipment," according to WorldWideLearn.Com. "Coupled with this long-term trend is an industrial concern for cost efficiency and effectiveness."
Recently, Medical Device Daily, the sister publication of BioWorld Today, reported that the growth areas in life science jobs were in IT finance and regulatory, quality and clinical jobs. In the August 5 issue, Omar Ford quoted an index developed by ZRG Partners, of West Borough, Mass. The index also showed job growth in medical device and supply and life science areas.
Astellas/iBIO Survey Sheds Light on How to Spur Students Toward Science
With the number of biotech jobs set to increase, a major concern among industry is having enough trained applicants to fill these positions.
A national survey released October 28 showed that large percentages of science teachers and parents strongly agree that demonstrating real-life applications in science (87 percent and 72 percent, respectively) can help make science education more interesting for U.S. Students. Almost all science teachers (99 percent) and nine in ten parents said they felt that science education is important, if not very important, for a child's future, but that it needs to be more engaging to capture the attention of children in America today (97 percent and 96 percent, respectively). The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of iBIO Institute, of Chicago, and Deerfield, Ill.-based Astellas Pharma US Inc. Included a sample of 235 science teachers and 300 parents with school-age children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
"It is important that students today understand that science is more than what they read in a text book," said David Miller, president and CEO of iBIO Institute, in a press release. "As educators, parents and mentors, it is our responsibility to take science beyond the pages of a book. By developing creative and innovative lesson plans that demonstrate the cause and effect of science, we have the opportunity to bring science to life for our children."
To spur student interest in science, the survey also showed that science teachers and parents feel very strongly that using outside mentors (46 percent and 51 percent, respectively) and leveraging technology resources such as the Internet (73 percent, 56 percent) can play an important role. In fact, almost all science teachers and parents agree that the Internet should be used more to make interesting science education materials available to teachers (97 percent and 92 percent, respectively) and to provide support for mentoring efforts (99 percent, 96 percent). They also believe that it can be a great tool for parents to engage in their child's education (96 percent, 98 percent).
"In this technologically advanced and competitive world, a solid science education is vital to the future of our children," said Seigo Kashii, president and CEO of Astellas Pharma US.
Parents and teachers can play a key role in providing positive exposure to science when children are young. The hot jobs will follow if the students are prepared to do them. The future of life sciences depends on the fact that they will.

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